HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Tuesday announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the creator of prescription painkiller OxyContin, accusing the company of a multi-faceted, illegal effort to market OxyContin in Pennsylvania.
Shapiro’s suit is the first to specifically detail Purdue’s barrage of sales representatives targeting Pennsylvania doctors as a key facet of its campaign to push addictive opioids on Pennsylvanians.
He said Purdue’s sales force completed 531,000 visits to doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pennsylvania, pushing OxyContin to doctors who overprescribed and even illegally prescribed the addictive opioid.
The Attorney General’s suit also cites the multifaceted marketing campaign in Pennsylvania by Purdue and its creation of “pseudo-addiction,” a fabricated condition it utilized to get their doctors to ignore early signs of addicted patients and write more prescriptions.
“Our communities and families have been devastated by the opioid epidemic, which takes 12 Pennsylvania lives per day,” said Shapiro.
“There is nothing natural about this epidemic—it was manufactured in part by Purdue Pharma, as the company deceptively marketed OxyContin despite knowing the risk of addiction.
“While Pennsylvania paid the price, Purdue made more than $35 billion in revenue. We’re taking action to hold them accountable for their greed and the devastation they pushed for profit.”
The lawsuit alleges that Purdue launched an illegal marketing campaign of deception targeting Pennsylvania doctors and patients to change attitudes, practices and the culture surrounding pain management. Some of the most egregious components of the campaign include:
- Purdue deployed their highly-trained sales staff to blanket Pennsylvania, making sales calls and in-person visits to physicians, totaling more than half a million visits in Pennsylvania alone, an amount second to only California.
- Purdue targeted Pennsylvania doctors with suspicious prescribing activity and would invest more sales force and marketing to get those doctors to prescribe even more OxyContin – sometimes resulting in as much as a 500 percent increase in OxyContin prescriptions by one office alone.
- Purdue misinformed doctors and pharmacists about the addictive nature of OxyContin and used industry thought leaders and in-house marketing literature to dispel the facts about the drug.
- As the opioid epidemic grew, Purdue created “pseudo-addiction,” a Purdue-conjured disease that showed similar equities as addiction but was to be treated, according to Purdue, with additional opioids.
The suit, part of a broad effort by the Office of Attorney General to target sources of the opioid epidemic, alleges that by misrepresenting and omitting correct, scientifically-supported contrary evidence concerning their opioid products, Purdue offered a product that was materially different from what it purported to be in the marketplace.
This conduct constitutes a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
The Office of Attorney General is demanding that the Court issue an order preventing Purdue and anyone associated with Purdue’s misconduct from continuing to engage in these same deceptive tactics.
The suit asks that the defendants forfeit all profits they have derived from their misconduct and pay the Commonwealth for the costs of its investigation and prosecution of this action.
The suit also requests that the Court order Purdue to pay civil penalties in the amount of $1,000 for each and every violation of Consumer Protection Law. This amount will increase to $3,000 for each violation involving a victim age 60 or older.
“Purdue acted with brazen disregard for the public health hazard they were creating, choosing to maximize profits while putting Pennsylvanians’ lives at risk and ignoring suspicious prescribing practices by doctors,” said Shapiro.
“They targeted the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, including our seniors and veterans, and aggressively pushed doctors to prescribe unnecessary levels of opioids.
“All along, they knew how dangerous their drugs were and they knew that their claims were deceptive—and that violates the laws of our Commonwealth.”
This lawsuit is a result of an investigation that Pennsylvania began leading with 40 other states in 2017 into six opioid manufacturers—Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan Inc., and Purdue Pharma—and three opioid distributors—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania and more than 40 other states filed a separate lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceuticals, 19 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers, and 15 individual senior executive defendants alleging a broad conspiracy to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition and unreasonably restrain trade for more than 100 different generic drugs.